A blistered front-left tyre was the main reason why Max Verstappen couldn’t attack Lewis Hamilton for victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, according to Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Verstappen finished second at Suzuka, falling only 1.2 seconds shy of beating Hamilton after closing right up to the tail of the Mercedes driver in the final laps.
For much of the second stint, the Dutchman was around three seconds adrift of the lead, having gained time on Hamilton by ending his first stint on supersoft tyres a lap earlier than his rival.
But Horner revealed the Dutchman was instructed by the team to maintain a gap, in order to prevent a blister that appeared on Verstappen’s front-left tyre during the second stint from getting any worse.
“We were managing pretty much from about lap 35, 36… an appearing and a widening blister on the inside of the front-left tyre, that was getting ever deeper and wider,” Horner explained.
“So we asked Max to maintain a three-second gap so as not to get into dirty air and damage the tyre further.
“But he was still able to easily sit there, and then as we got closer to the end of the race after the VSC, he said ‘can I have a go?’ and we said ‘as long as you’re sensible in the way that you approach it, fine’. And suddenly he was on Lewis’s gearbox.
“It was a bit unlucky he came across Fernando [Alonso] and Felipe [Massa] having their own battle, because with another clear lap he’d have certainly had a go.
“Whether it would have worked or not I don’t know, but he’d have certainly had a go, had a crack at making a pass. But it always would’ve been difficult.”
Horner added that Verstappen also suffered an issue with the set of supersofts he started the race on, and that there was real concern of a puncture with his second set of tyres late in the race.
“We saw it in the first stint, and because the second stint was 25 percent longer, it re-appeared,” said Horner.
“It was a concern, because you think back to [Sebastian] Vettel in Silverstone – it’s very easy to pick up a puncture at that point. We were all just a little bit nervous about that.”
Verstappen said post-race that the late traffic didn’t affect his ability to pass Hamilton, but conceded that he was having to manage the tyres to ensure he didn’t “destroy” them.
“After the pitstop we had great balance on the soft tyres, I just managed to keep [the gap to Hamilton] around 2.5-3s,” said Verstappen.
“I didn’t want to close up more because then you destroy the front tyres, in case you maybe need them at the end. It was all on the limit I guess, but for many people.”
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